Monday, August 08, 2011

Thielke, Peter. Review of Dean Moyar, HEGEL'S CONSCIENCE. NDPR (July 2011).

Moyar, Dean.  Hegel's ConscienceOxford: OUP, 2011.

Despite a growing interest in Hegel among Anglophone philosophers, there has been relatively little attention paid to the specific structure of Hegel's ethical views. Given this situation, it is gratifying to report not only that Dean Moyar's Hegel's Conscience seeks to fill this gap, but also that it does so in such an interesting and rewarding way. Far from being the paragon of impenetrability, Moyar's Hegel develops a theory of agency and ethical action that is both clear and cogent, as well as highly relevant to contemporary debates about these issues. The book is excellent and should be of interest not only to scholars of German Idealism but also to anyone seeking new options in currently ossified metaethical debates. It is not an exhaustive account of all aspects of Hegel's ethics, but it promises to lay the groundwork for what might well become a serious Hegelian alternative to more familiar models of moral agency. 
The kernel of Moyar's argument concerns the central role of conscience in Hegel's ethics. At first glance, this might look like a rather unpromising place to start, since even Hegel himself castigates the ethics of conscience: if the moral worth of my actions is entirely dependent on whether I in good conscience perform them, then it seems that anything would be permitted, so long as I act with full conviction. As Moyar argues, however, such claims have misled commentators into thinking that Hegel is suspicious of all forms of conscience, when in fact his complaint is only with an ethics based on formal or abstract conscience alone. Rather, as Moyar claims, actual conscience for Hegel is the locus of practical reason; it "stands for a complex set of capacities that include judgment, inference, deliberation, belief, etc." (14). The agent of conscience acts on the subjective belief that her actions are right, but this is buttressed by the idea that objective reasons can be provided to support these beliefs. And, in one of the most interesting claims of the book, Moyar shows that, for Hegel, these reasons of conscience can only be understood in the context of a robust social practice -- Hegel's ethics is, in the end, based on a holistic account of inner and outer reasons that together form the complex web of individual agency within a larger society. . . .

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